‘ISMS’ exist – even if the ‘ISTS’ don’t…

I followed (and briefly participated in) a prolonged Twitter ‘dialogue’ yesterday afternoon revolving around whether there were any card carrying ‘progressivists’, and therefore whether arguments against progressivism were actually valid.

Now, I agree that it is rarely the most fruitful way forward in a debate to jab the finger and label our opponents, and I can sympathise with those rejecting the label ‘Progressivist’. Firstly – in debates, nobody EVER likes being labelled unless they have openly adopted that label themselves.

Secondly – in complete truth, rarely do many of us purely identify ourselves with one identity or another… and even less would we say that in our actions do we purely adhere to a particular philosophy. I believe that the vast majority of us live in some or other state of ‘cognitive dissonance’ – holding quite contrary beliefs which seem to act separately on different levels within us. This can result in varying degrees of discomfort and confusion, but we normally believe that there is coherence at some level or other.

Thirdly – what does it take to really be a progressivist? To act in certain ways…? To proclaim certain things…? Just to privately  believe certain things…?

“Do unto others as others would do…” – How many of us would say that this should be identified with what we actually do…? Most Christians would say that they don’t actually do this very well in practice. Many might even say that sometimes they think it perhaps isn’t the best thing to do. And yet pretty much all of them would suggest that it nevertheless informs how they think about things.

This is why it is perfectly acceptable to debate and critique the ideas of progressivism (as I have done on this blog), even if we can’t point to a single person who would admit to embodying it. It is because it provides a template – a guiding set of ‘shoulds’ – at the back of many people’s minds influencing, energising or undermining how and where they focus their energies.

I know this to be true because I’ve been one of those people who cradled progressive ideals and assumptions at the back of my own mind…even though the practicalities of my situation and competing thoughts within me never made them particularly well realised, and I never would have described myself as a ‘progressivist’. I nevertheless aspired to them and kept trying to ‘square the circle’.

I still cradle some now..

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The choice we all face…

What’s the difference between these two choices?

  1. Choosing whether you’re going to do a PowerPoint or a poster
  2. Choosing to respond to a bad grade with a different approach

The first one is a freedom which releases commitment and energy.

The second one requires the commitment of energy which will lead to freedom.

Modern education simultaneously aims to give children more choice, whilst, paradoxically, removing from them the worry that responsibility for whatever position they find themselves in is their problem. We want children to follow what they want to do, whilst comforting them that they are the unfortunate [subtext: ‘helpless’] victims of circumstance.

Yes, we could ALL look at the situations we are in and feel like helpless victims – realising that the combination of genetics and circumstance has determined just about everything in our lives…

And yet……  agency …… whatever that actually is……. can allow us to turn all circumstances around through this concept we call ‘choice’.

It could be said that, whether or not there is the philosophical entity we call ‘free will’, the belief of any individual that they have agency to choose what happens next to them is the SINGLE MOST POWERFUL means to affect a change in anybody’s life.

Indeed, letting children believe that, actually, the buck stops with them to make their lives better could be the biggest help-up they could ever receive.

This is doubly important, because, in their adult lives, they WILL be the ones held accountable for what they do – victims of genetics and upbringing or not.

Of course… the skill of the teacher and the parent, is in ensuring that the burden of this responsibility never quite gets too much….